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Author: Mikaela Williams

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 2

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 2

 

Continued from Part 1

  • Having important life goals and ensuring those around you support them: Part of empowerment is deciding how you want to live your life, what you want to achieve, and then going after those ambitions rather than doing what others want or what you think you should be doing according to cultural norms.  Having healthy relationships means that your partner, family members, and friends support your goals and the things in life that are important to you. It may be helpful to write down your goals and why they are important to you to remind yourself to stay strong if you ever feel discouraged. While a goal of creating world peace is admirable, you are more likely to achieve your goals when they are SMART: specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

 

  • Cultivating and maintaining supportive female friendships, trusting and supporting other women: Women are socialized to distrust, antagonize, compete with, and dislike other women – to align themselves with men and give their time and energy to them. This can make cultivating and maintaining supportive relationships with other women, or even politically organizing with them, difficult or challenging, but ultimately one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. If you’re looking to make female friends you can post an ad on craigslist or Meetup, you could join a club, craft, sport, or volunteer group, or try to make friends through your school, job, or faith community. For many women it takes a lot of work to overcome the internalized misogyny that is preventing them from having fulfilling friendships or working together with other women. If this is something you struggle with, try to keep the following tips in mind: Support is a two-way street – try being the friend you’d like to have.  Avoid things like talking about other women behind their back and name calling (even if it seems endearing) like bitch or slut. Engage more in celebrating other women’s successes, being emotionally supportive, and giving other women the benefit of the doubt and not rushing to judgement.

Politically speaking try to avoid horizontal hostility and identity politics – you don’t have to agree 100% with someone to show solidarity and build coalitions for common causes. Learn about the cultures of women who are different from you by reading books and watching documentaries, but don’t assume this makes you an expert. If you’re offering political support to women of a different race, class, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. than yourself, make sure you do so respectfully – ask how you can be involved if at all, don’t presume to speak for the group or assume authority, don’t interrupt or talk over others, insert your own opinions, start arguments, or derail conversations, and avoid power struggles and cliques – in short, let the group decide what their objectives are and what your role will be in them and respect their rules, conditions for participation, and code of conduct. If you have concerns about the group bring them up privately to leadership and respect their response – if asked to leave the group do so with maturity and equanimity. Avoid airing dirty laundry about other women or groups – public critiques should be respectful, grounded in feminist analysis, and aimed at principles, not personal attacks.

  • Being able to control your reproduction: Physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual, and financial autonomy are all essential for personal empowerment. Pregnancy, labor, and birth can be taxing or stressful for women in all these areas, therefore, you should have the right to decide if and when to have children and how many. In the US there are many options for controlling your reproduction including hormonal contraception, e.g. the pill, ring, implant, shot, or some intrauterine devices (IUDs), non-hormonal contraception, also called barrier methods, e.g. condom, sponge, diaphragm, or cervical cap, fertility awareness method, also called natural family planning or rhythm method (there are free apps you can use to track your menstrual cycle), and abstinence. In the US, if you’re interested in hormonal contraception, many are free or low-cost if you have Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurance due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA also mandates that your annual gynecological exam that is required for a birth control prescription to also be fully covered by your insurance provider. If you do not have insurance many community health programs offer low- or no-cost exams and other preventative care appointments.

At your annual exam your doctor will take a swab of your cervix to check for abnormal cells, a procedure called a pap smear, test you for certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (but not necessarily all of them so if you suspect you may have been exposed make sure to ask your doctor to test you), often will do palpation exam of your breasts, and sometimes will check your iron levels or other lab work.  The exam shouldn’t be any more painful than a little discomfort so if your doctor is causing you pain you have the right to ask them to stop the exam. Your doctor should also be explaining everything they’re going to do before they do it and answer any questions you have.

The office will call you in a few days to tell you the results of your pap smear. If they detected abnormal cells it is most likely because you have been exposed to a strain of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and they will ask you to come in for a biopsy of your cervix. If the biopsy results are positive for certain strains of malignant HPV they will go over your treatment options. If you’re sexually active it is important to get your annual pap smear because if left untreated some types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer, but it’s important to note that most women who have their abnormal cells treated do not go on to develop cancer and are able to maintain healthy cervical tissue.

Although not viable as a long-term contraception method, if you have a lapse in your birth control that results in unprotected sex you can get “the morning-after pill,” or emergency contraception (EC), over the counter and take it within 72 hours to prevent pregnancy. EC usually costs between $35-60, with the generic version being less expensive than the brand name version, Plan B. If your local pharmacy only has Plan B, there is a $10 coupon you can get on their website, which also has information about how it works, side effects, and an FAQ. If you have health insurance, you may be able to use it to purchase EC so ask a pharmacist for help if this is an option for you. You can also order a generic version of EC to have on hand in case you need it.

If you find yourself with an unwanted pregnancy you can obtain either a surgical or medication abortion to terminate the pregnancy. If you are in a country in which abortion access is restricted or illegal you can contact Women on Web or Women on Waves for help. In the US although Planned Parenthood is the most well known abortion provider, there are various local providers as well. Every state has its own laws pertaining to abortion services so make sure you call your local clinic and make an appointment as soon as possible – they usually won’t be able to see you for a few days, so you have time to think about it and change your mind if you want, but the longer you wait the fewer options you have.

NOTE: It is imperative that you call an actual abortion clinic and not a “crisis pregnancy center.” These are intended to confuse you and they are frauds. When you show up for your appointment, instead of counseling you they will try intimidate you, sometimes traumatically, into deciding not to have an abortion. They will tell you misinformation about abortion causing breast cancer, suicidality, or infertility [it doesn’t]. They will tell you that they will help you and provide you with financial and material resources for you and your baby [they won’t]. At an actual clinic they will give you accurate information and resources for adoption or prenatal care if you do end up choosing not to terminate the pregnancy and they will provide you with respectful, supportive care without trying to coerce, shame, or scare you.

Being able to control your reproduction also means being able to make choices about your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum if you find yourself with a wanted pregnancy. If this is the case, firstly congratulations! And secondly you should know that you also have a number of rights as a pregnant, birthing, and postpartum patient, including the right to privacy, to choose your midwife or physician, choose your birth setting, information about benefits and risks of procedures, drugs, tests, or treatments, to accept or refuse any of these and to have your choices honored, to change your mind or withdraw your consent at any time, receive care that is appropriate for your cultural or religious background, communication in your preferred language, have family members or support persons of your choice present, freedom of movement during labor, and uninterrupted contact with your baby.

For many women childbirth can be a fulfilling and empowering experience, but for many women, it can leave them feeling traumatized if they experienced induction, poor pain relief, feelings of loss of control, high levels of medical intervention, not being listened to, lack of information or explanation, lack of privacy and dignity, poor postnatal care, or previous trauma, among other factors. For this reason many women opt to hire a birth doula to assist with various aspects of emotional support, physical support, education, and advocacy during childbirth. Doulas can help you make a birth plan with all of your preferences that will be given to the medical staff assisting with your labor and delivery. Whether you decide to hire a doula or not, make sure you take childbirth classes if it’s your first pregnancy to prepare you for all of the different things that can come up during labor. Many women suffer injuries from childbirth that go overlooked or undertreated by their doctors. If you have lingering postpartum pain or other health issues and your doctor doesn’t take them seriously make sure you find a healthcare professional who does.

  • Learning self-sufficiency skills: Learning to be self-sufficient can be one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. The more skills you learn and master the more time, energy, and money you can save – plus you get the satisfaction of a job well done that can be a major confidence-booster. At the very least if you do choose to hire someone, your increased knowledge of the skill or trade will help you know whether they’re doing good work at a fair price or whether they’re trying to rip you off. Some areas of self-sufficiency skills include: automotive, bicycle, and other vehicle repair/maintenance, home repair/maintenance and remodelling, farming/gardening, trapping/hunting/animal raising, butchering, fishing, weaponsmithing/repair, food preservation, radio operation, knot-tying, pest-control, sewing/weaving/knitting, cooking/baking, woodworking/carpentry, plumbing, computer programming, accounting/bookkeeping/tax preparation, survival skills, first aid, foraging, electronics repair, and welding. A lot of community colleges will offer these kinds of classes at a low cost so introductory-level mastery is can be easily accessible. You may also be able to find local craft or trade groups that offer classes or lessons, or you may be able to volunteer somewhere in exchange for learning the skill. And if nothing else there are always YouTube videos, library books, and the trial-by-error learning process.

 

  • Being physically fit and strong: Being physically fit and strong not only helps you escape and survive potentially dangerous situations, but also builds up your confidence and self-esteem, which plummet for most girls when they hit puberty. The keys to maintaining good physical fitness are to make it a part of your everyday life, make a commitment to prioritizing it, and make it something you enjoy doing. This could be a group sport or activity or something you do on your own. There are many women’s sports, cardio, weightlifting, and strength training classes or groups that you can find for free or low cost through your local YMCA or parks and recreation department. There also lots of books, apps, websites, and videos you can utilize for individual training. You don’t need an expensive personal trainer or elaborate equipment to get started – you just need the motivation.

Part of physical fitness is also ensuring that you maintain a healthy weight, diet, and relationship with food. If you have an eating disorder or are underweight it is imperative that you seek treatment because if left untreated could become a life-threatening condition. The good news is that most women who seek treatment for their eating disorders recover and go on to maintain healthy a weight and relationship with food. As with other mental health issues, there is no one-size-fits-all path to recovery – make sure you try various treatment options until you find one that works for you. If you need to lose weight, whatever diet, meaning nutritional program, you decide on make sure you research it thoroughly so that you’re not setting yourself up for failure. Don’t engage in temporary, or “crash,” diets just to lose weight because that usually means you will gain back the weight after you stop dieting, commonly referred to as “yo-yo dieting.” Your diet should be something that you can easily fit into your lifestyle over the long term and shouldn’t require drastic changes or cumbersome restriction. Don’t get obsessed with a number on a scale – let your body find the weight that feels naturally comfortable and that will also keep you healthy.

Try to learn as much as you can about nutrition, your body’s needs, and how to heal your relationship with food, which may require professional assistance from a psychologist, therapist, or dietitian. Many dieticians will offer free consultations and many insurance plans will cover follow-up visits with a small co-pay, so if you’re overwhelmed with where to start or what nutritional program is right for you, it may be a good idea to make an appointment to talk about your options.  Many communities will offer free weight-loss classes or support groups as well. Once you develop a nutritional and fitness plan, there are many free apps and websites you can use to help you stay on track and reach your goals.

  • Rejecting feminine grooming rituals and beauty practices: As documented by feminist theorist Sheila Jeffreys, socially prescribed feminine grooming rituals and beauty practices – that are so pervasive as to be rendered “natural” – have numerous harmful side effects for women both physical and psychological. Thus rejecting these social mandates is critical for personal empowerment. Feminine clothing such as dresses, bras, spanx, and high heels are often restrictive and uncomfortable – they can prevent you from running or fighting, and can cause damage to your spine or feet. Likewise, shaving or waxing your underarms, legs, and pubic hair, cosmetic surgery, eyebrow threading, waxing or plucking, hairdressing and coloring, manicures and pedicures, anti-aging treatments, and makeup can be expensive, painful, uncomfortable, and time-consuming. All of these beauty practices are psychologically restrictive as they send the message to your subconscious [read: socialization] that your primary function is to be looked at, to be a passive decoration, rather than to be one who acts upon the world: to be an object rather than a subject. Imagine all the things you could accomplish if you used the time and money it takes to conform to societal standards of femininity to instead do something that really fulfills you as a multifaceted human being!

Think about it: there’s a reason that only one half of the population is asked to electively self-harm in such a way, is told that their natural bodies aren’t good enough, while the other half is allowed to be comfortable and free from elaborate and expensive grooming rituals. Spoiler alert: it isn’t because it’s beneficial to women – it’s for the benefit of men and men only. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself, you cannot choose to participate in femininity “for yourself” because it never was and never will be for you. It may make you feel good about yourself temporarily but only because it feels good to be validated by society and by patriarchy. However, that is only a superficial feeling – true self-esteem and confidence come from loving – and wearing – your natural face, your unsupported breasts, your lumpy belly, your unshaven legs, underarms, and pubic hair, your wrinkles, your gray hair, your natural nails, and from wearing comfortable, practical clothing.  

  • Taking off your hijab when it’s against the law:  My Stealthy Freedom is an online social movement that allows women to protest compulsory hijab laws in countries like Iran by sharing photos of themselves with uncovered hair. These brave women are not only empowering themselves but also working toward the liberation of all their fellow countrywomen.

Although this guide has covered a lot, don’t think that you need to try to tackle everything in it all at once. To start, pick something that seems the most interesting to you or that you could benefit the most from. As you find yourself mastering these everyday acts of empowerment, make sure you share these skills with other women through education and support.  And no matter what, remember to stay strong on your feminist journey!

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 1

The Feminist Guide to Everyday Acts of Empowerment: Part 1

Disclaimer: this is mostly focused on resources available in the US, as that is what I’m familiar with – please help broaden the scope of this guide by adding resources available to women in other parts of the world.

       Empowerment, that most noblest of goals professed by almost all contemporary feminist movements near and wide, but what exactly is it? How do you know if you are empowered, making empowering choices, or empowering others? The term has become so ubiquitous as to nearly lose any meaning whatsoever. Here are provided some answers and tips for getting the most out of your individual acts of feminist rebellion.

       There are two necessary components of effective empowerment, and a third component required for an act of empowerment to be specifically feminist. First, empowerment is a result or an effect, usually of organized political resistance. Second, empowerment provides meaningful and tangible benefits to a disempowered person or group. Finally,  it must be organized by and contribute to the rights, autonomy, and liberation of women. The following is a perfect example of this definition of empowerment:  

       In October 2015, 6,000 women who work as tea pickers for Kanan Devan Hills tea plantations in Kerala blocked the main road to the company’s headquarters. The company is part-owned but controlled by Tata, an Indian multinational and owner of Tetley Tea. Women organized the blockage themselves. They had no experience in union agitation, but defying all odds, they struggled against both the company and the union that was believed to represent them. Pempilai Orumai (Women’s Unity) stayed put for nine days. After endless negotiations overseen by the state, they won the 20 percent bonus they were demanding.

       The women of Pempilai Orumai won the 20% bonus their demanded due to their organized and prolonged resistance. Comparing this to our definition of empowerment, we find that it fits all of the 3 components of feminist empowerment. They achieved a result/effect that they demanded, the result provided them a meaningful benefit (the 20% bonus), and it was an act that benefitted women specifically. We can use this same framework to analyze other individual and organized actions, such as SlutWalk, and determine whether they are truly empowering.  

       SlutWalk organizers and participants demand an end to rape culture by marching in lingerie in order to call attention to the pervasive victim-blaming surrounding rape cases in the press, law enforcement, and social media. While an admirable, and certainly meaningful goal, “the end to rape culture” isn’t a tangible goal  – how do we know when rape culture has ended? One might argue that the end will come when women are no longer sexually objectified in popular culture, but then that would directly contradict the method of resistance employed by SlutWalk participants. Thus, if the goal is immeasurable then there is essentially no result or effect to be attained other than the ever-indefinite “awareness.” Finally, although SlutWalk was organized by women, it has been criticized as erasing or trivializing the destructive relationship between women of color and sexual stereotypes, arguing that the effort to reclaim the word “slut” is an option only available to white, middle-class women. Others have criticized it further, saying that the goal of reclaiming the word “slut” itself is a misguided attempt to promote women’s sexual liberation, as it is so entrenched in patriarchal norms of women’s sexuality that it serves to reinforce rape culture rather than dismantle it. Thus when compared to the definition of feminist empowerment detailed earlier, it’s arguable that actions like SlutWalk, although organized with admirable goals, are neither feminist nor empowering.

       Similarly, individual actions can be evaluated within this framework in order to determine whether they are empowering. Contemporary mainstream feminism in the West boasts that anything a woman chooses to do can be empowering and/or feminist, whether that is simply wearing makeup and high heels or performing in pornography or other “sex work” – as long as it’s your choice as a woman and “feels” empowering, then it is beyond critique. To state it simply, this guide does not subscribe to that definition of empowerment. This guide maintains that feminist empowerment is more than a feeling resulting from individual choices [which are always mitigated by various societal constraints] – that being said, however, there are a number of everyday acts that can contribute to your and other women’s empowerment, many of which rely on overcoming your feminine socialization and societal pressures toward compulsory femininity, which are inherently oppressive to women across racial, economic, religious, and geographic divides. So for those times when you’re not engaged in some sort of organized resistance, you can try these individual acts of feminist empowerment:

  • Learning and practicing self-defense strategies and techniques: Self-defense training has been shown to decrease unwanted sexual contact from men. It is important to find a comprehensive self-defense training program that is feminist-oriented. This means that in addition to physical self-defense techniques, the by-women-for-women program will also teach verbal skills, awareness training, risk assessment, boundary-setting, bystander intervention, confidence-building, and de-escalation techniques, such as the Warrior Sisters program, which can be found in the US, UK, and Canada. There are also videos with many practical tips that can be easily implemented in your everyday routines. Some women engage in weapons and firearms training.  If this is something you decide is appropriate for yourself make sure that your training regimen is in addition to a comprehensive self-defense program and not in place of it – having a wide variety of tools, techniques, and skills at your disposal is the best self-defense strategy.
  • Being financially independent: Being financially independent means not having to rely on men for economic support, and ideally being able to support yourself if and when you need to with dignified, and meaningful work. This can include having your own bank account, your own source of income or potential for one, having as much education and skills training as possible to secure and maintain a well paying job, craft, or trade, a prenuptial agreement or other legal arrangements when necessary, equitable division of financial obligations with male partners, salary and other negotiation skills, consumer research and purchasing skills, having, understanding, and appropriately utilizing adequate types of insurance, protection from identity theft, and financial literacy.

If you’re a low-wage earner or non-wage earner you can still pursue a lot of these skills for little to no cost – many communities, schools, and libraries will offer financial literacy and other classes – how to budget, repair your credit, do your taxes, invest or save, etc. – and you can always get books for free from the library. Although not explicitly feminist, Suze Orman has written financial advice books for women that are straightforward and easy to implement.  Many communities will offer free job training, resume writing, and interview preparation services as well. If you’re self-employed or make freelance income you may be able to find mentoring services by women, for women. There are also many free budgeting and investing apps.

  • Being politically informed and engaged, knowing your rights: Participating in your system of governance is essential for personal empowerment. Stay informed about proposed laws and how they will affect you and contact your elected officials with any questions or comments. It may not always feel like it but advocating for your needs to your elected officials does make a difference – for every instance that you advocate for yourself you are also advocating on behalf of many other women like you. Attending and speaking at governance meetings or personally meeting with your elected officials is the most effective way to advocate for yourself – handwritten postcards or letters are the next most effective method, and then phone calls and emails. Look up and save the numbers for your city council members, mayor, governor, state representatives, senators, congressional representatives, or members of parliament and take a few minutes to call on your lunch break. If you’re in the US you can call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected to your senators or representative. If you’re interested in running for office there are organizations like Emily’s List in the US that will help mentor you and provide resources, even at local levels.

Knowing your rights is also essential for personal empowerment – if you don’t know your rights how can you know if they’re being violated? The US Department of Labor Women’s Bureau offers a free download of all its resources, including equal pay, pregnancy and breastfeeding, sexual harassment, and resources for women of color, women with disabilities, and older women. In the US your employer is required to post your rights and applicable contact information for organizations like the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC) in a visible place and cannot retaliate against you for filing a complaint. In the US you also have rights in the medical field, depending on the state, such as the right to have a female staff member present in doctors’ visits with male doctors, the right to informed consent and refusal for any medical procedure or medication, and the right to privacy and confidentiality. Title IX of the US Education Amendments guarantees equal treatment for female students, including in athletic, housing, and academic settings. 

  • Consciousness raising and feminist education: Consciousness raising is the process by which women, usually together collectively, identify and work to overcome the limitations of their feminine socialization – a topic that will be covered in more depth later. It also involves analyzing what are usually considered to be “individual problems” within a feminist framework in order to properly situate them within the systems of power that produce them (hence the meaning of “the personal is political”), e.g. domestic violence, sexual assault, discrimination, etc. Consciousness raising is an integral part of feminist empowerment as it builds the foundation for the possibility of political resistance. Consciousness raising also involves more than just learning how to identify systemic causes for women’s oppression and requires appropriately placing feelings of anger or guilt toward those systems rather than toward oneself, i.e. externalizing rather than internalizing. It’s about being able to say there is something wrong with the systems that create these conditions for women, rather than saying there is something wrong with yourself for not being able [or willing] to conform to them.

Learning about women’s history and the history of feminist resistance is also integral for personal empowerment. Women have been largely cut off from knowing about other women’s accomplishments and achievements in mainstream channels of education, especially those of women of color. Part of how feminine socialization works is that constantly seeing images of men’s accomplishments forms a subconscious impression in your mind that only men are capable of such achievements. This aspect of the socialization process is called internalization and it operates on a completely subconscious level, meaning we are often consciously unaware of the biases it produces. Educating yourself about women’s achievements and the history of feminism can not only help you become more consciously aware of those biases but also help you overcome them and form positive subconscious impressions that women, and thus you too, are capable of doing great things.

Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution is an online exhibit showcasing the history of the feminist movement in the US from 1940-present, including sections on politics and social movements, body and health, and workplace and family. Click!’s resource library and GoodRead’s women’s history shelf compliation offer hundreds of book recommendations to get you started. You should be able to find many of these books at your local library, but if they don’t have what you’re looking for don’t assume you are out of luck and must purchase it. Many libraries offer interlibrary loans as well as the ability to suggest a book for them to purchase, which provides a valuable service as the book will then be available for others to read as well. Writing reviews and recommendations for women’s history and feminist books on your library account page or the library’s website also helps provide exposure for other readers.

  • Learning about and appreciating your body: Women are socialized almost from day one to dislike, criticize, and even distrust their bodies. More than just the constant bombardment of unattainable beauty standards, various social institutions have both routinely pathologized and ignored women’s bodies, biological functions, needs, and complaints. Thus learning about how your body works is integral to personal empowerment. The classic women-authored book Our Bodies, Ourselves has been adapted into 30 languages, features culturally specific information for various communities, and is an excellent resource for any woman looking to learn more about her body. One simple thing you can do toward this goal of empowerment is that every time you find yourself criticizing your body for whatever reason, find something to appreciate about your body, even if it’s something small, even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable at first. Consider boycotting cable tv and women’s magazines as the images and advertizing foster negative body images. Try to only consume media that presents positive representations of women and be picky about what you allow into your mind in order to cultivate a feminist consciousness. In a feminist sense, try to emulate the Buddhist saying that you should guard your mind as you would an open wound in a rough crowd.

Some bigger steps you can take toward this goal include finding doctors who support you and take your needs seriously. If a doctor dismisses or trivializes any of your complaints, get a second opinion or switch doctors. With recent evidence showing patients of female doctors have better outcomes than those of male doctors, you might even consider seeing only female doctors when possible. Make sure that your doctor gives you all the information you need to make informed decisions for any medication or procedure. Make sure you ask questions such as: what is this medication/procedure, how does it work, what are the potential side effects, and are there any other treatment options? If the doctor acts like you’re inconveniencing them or is trying to rush you into making a decision, do not feel bad about demanding their time and attention or asking for another doctor. Unless it’s a life or death situation, even in things like childbirth there is rarely a problem so urgent that you can’t take a couple minutes to think about it. If you have trouble speaking up for yourself consider bringing along a friend or family member who can help encourage and support you.

  • Learning and practicing self-acceptance and self-love: This act of empowerment can be one of the most difficult for many women to practice or master. Women are constantly bombarded with images saying they’re not good enough in virtually all areas of life whether implicitly or explicitly, and these negative feelings can be further compounded if you have survived some kind of trauma. Thus self-acceptance and self-love are some of the most important gifts you can give to yourself as a woman, even if it seems impossible to achieve. The first step is to become conscious of that voice in your head that speaks negatively to you about yourself. Realize that this voice is not you – this voice is like a program you downloaded a long time ago that is always running in the background and is now out of date. Once you become aware of the voice you can work on overwriting that “program” with a newer, more loving one. This is something that can take years to achieve so be patient with yourself – it won’t be quick and easy, but it will be rewarding.

To overwrite your old programming try this technique: Every time you catch that voice in your head saying something negative to you about yourself don’t feel bad about it, don’t get mad or feel guilty about it (but don’t make yourself wrong if you do feel that way though). Instead, pretend that voice is like a small child who is scared or lonely and treat it with care and love and forgiveness. It may help to visualize yourself holding the personification of the voice or negative thought and comforting it, or just speak reassuringly and compassionately to it. You may have developed this voice at one time in your life as a coping mechanism to help you through a tough situation and it never got the memo that you’ve moved on. If so, thank it for trying to help, but explain that now you need it to help in a different way – you need it to say positive, encouraging things to you instead, like: and offer an example. For example if you find yourself thinking “I’m worthless” you could say to yourself in response “I am worthy of love and respect.” Eventually the new, positive thoughts will literally build up the neural networks in your brain so that you think them more often and the negative thought neural networks will die off from not being used. Note: It’s important that your positive thoughts are stated in the present tense (I am) rather than future tense (I will) and also that they focus on what you want to feel rather than what you don’t want feel.

An important part of self-acceptance is that it is unconditional. If you say “I will feel good about myself when…” then you will never feel good about yourself – your mind will never let you feel good about yourself because you have programmed it to believe that your reward is perpetually in the future, always off somewhere in the distant land of perfection [which is always unattainable]. Make a commitment to yourself that you will love and forgive yourself no matter what. Realize that you are good enough as you are right now and that you do not have to meet any conditions to deserve to feel good about yourself. You are worth the time and energy to care for yourself.

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues consider seeing a feminist therapist or psychiatrist or attending a women’s support group, especially if you have survived sexual assault, domestic violence, abuse, or other kinds of trauma. When looking for a therapist it is important to find a good fit for your needs so make sure to ask potential therapists what their therapeutic orientation is and whether they utilize feminist principles. Recovery from the damage of living in patriarchal society can be like a full-time job and part of that job is trying different tools, techniques, strategies, and services until you find something that works for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution so don’t feel bad if you find yourself needing to switch therapists, or if you need to try a different approach altogether.

  • Asserting your boundaries and not apologizing for doing so: Women are socialized to be accommodating to others at the expense of their own needs and comfort. Thus defining and asserting your boundaries unapologetically is essential for personal empowerment. It will probably be uncomfortable the first few times and you may even get some backlash from men (or even other women), but in the end it can be really liberating. It can also be challenging due to the sheer amount of everyday sexism you may encounter. You do not owe anyone, even your partner, your time, energy, or space – these are precious, finite resources, so treat them with care. Defining and asserting your boundaries is about learning to prioritize your needs because no one else is going to do that for you. This can include how you choose to raise your children, equitable sharing of household responsibilities with male partners, taking up space/being physically comfortable, being loud or angry when appropriate, avoiding toxic friendships, relationships, or workplaces, not letting others interrupt or talk over you, workplace culture, schedule, and responsibilities, and sexual choices.

Sexual boundaries can often be really challenging for women to define and assert. The prevailing cultural message is that all women enjoy being sexually available to any man for any sex act at any time, which can be quite a shock to some men to learn that that isn’t the case. First you have to know what you like and what you don’t like and to be able to discern this requires some level of feminist consciousness (e.g. do you think you like something because mainstream culture tells you that you should or do you genuinely like it?). Once you figure this out make sure you communicate with your partner about it. If they try to pressure you into doing things you don’t like or don’t want to do that is called coercion and it’s not OK. You should be able to expect that your partner will respect your sexual boundaries without complaint, persuasion, or argument. You do not owe anyone, even your partner, an explanation for why you do or do not want to do something. “No” is a complete sentence. Having and asserting sexual boundaries includes not faking orgasms, which takes up your energy in order to stroke a man’s ego for something you didn’t even enjoy.

If you suspect you may be involved in an unhealthy friendship, relationship, or workplace environment, you may need to consider leaving or ending the relationship. When you decide that it is time to leave the toxic relationship or environment, start documenting everything just in case you need it for legal reasons.  If the relationship is abusive you may need to make a safety plan and contact a local domestic violence hotline for support before you leave.

To be continued

You’re Assigned Gender Norms, Not “a Gender”

You’re Assigned Gender Norms, Not “a Gender”

       I was watching a talk Robert Jensen did about his book, The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, and he said something particularly poignant about his own socialization as a boy: “I grew up in a way that was traditionally not masculine and I often felt out of sync with the gender norms assigned to me as a boy.” Note that Jensen didn’t say that he felt out of sync with the gender that was assigned to him, but rather with the gender norms. This is an important distinction that has far-reaching implications for the future of feminist activism.

       Feminists have been fighting against assigned gender norms since their inception, with the understanding that gender norms are assigned to individuals based on their belonging within a sex class from the moment they are born, i.e. masculine gender norms are assigned to males and feminine gender norms are assigned to females.  This assignment is carried out implicitly and explicitly throughout all facets of culture via socialization, a process individuals have little to no conscious control of.

      Only recently have “gender norms” become colloquially synonymous with “gender” and “gender” colloquially synonymous with “sex.” Transactivists claim that gender, rather than being imposed upon individuals from extrinsic systems, is an innate feeling or inner sense of being male or female. In this way masculinity inherently equals maleness while femininity inherently equals femaleness, and if one is uncomfortable with what is expected of them due to their assigned gender norms then it really means that they are the opposite sex “on the inside.”

       Radical feminists, on the other hand, take this conceptualization to task, arguing that one’s preferences for activities, their demeanor, their emotional predisposition, etc., i.e. one’s personality, have nothing to do with maleness or femaleness, whether one is really a man or a woman. That, as belonging to a sexually dimorphic species, man and woman are biologically determined categories that are fixed throughout time and place, but that, as belonging to an inherently social species as well, masculinity and femininity are socially constructed and vary widely throughout time and place. That not being a masculine-enough man doesn’t make you a woman, and that not being a feminine-enough woman doesn’t make you a man. It just means that you as an individual deviate from the standard norms society imposes upon you and that’s ok!

       Radical feminists celebrate the flaunting of gender norms in both men and women. We would love to see more “feminine” men and more “masculine” women, as having a healthy balance of character traits, preferences, and skills leads to a meaningful and fulfilling life no matter what sex you are, with the caveat being of course as long no one is harmed in doing so. For this reason many of us call ourselves “gender abolitionists,” meaning we would like to see an end to assigned gender norms across the board and just let people be themselves without fixating upon endless labels, identities, and other constraints. In essence the goal of gender abolition is liberation from an oppressive system, freedom for anyone and everyone to express their personality in authentic ways without worrying about whether it means they are really a man or woman.

       Sadly, transactivists aspire to maintain the oppressive system known as gender. Without gender norms they would have no foundational claim to innate maleness or femaleness. Their entire system of identity-worship would fall apart if people could just be themselves without needing to chain their personality to a label, even if there are 7 billion variations of them. Rejecting or failing to embody your assigned gender norms does not make you different or unique, it does not confer special status, it doesn’t mean you have to change your name, start taking hormones, or have surgeries to try to appear as the opposite sex – it just means that you are capable of embracing the full range of the human experience – something that can never be contained within the perpetual search for one’s “identity.”

Cis Privilege is a Lie: How the language of transactivism tries to manipulate women

Cis Privilege is a Lie: How the language of transactivism tries to manipulate women

I was at the laundromat today and The Doctors was on television with their guest, “lifestyle blogger,” Katherine Schwarzenegger. She was asked if she likes Justin Bieber and she promptly and buoyantly replied, “I’m a woman so of course I do!” Being unable to contain my disgust at not only this pronouncement but also at the fact that “lifestyle blogger” is even a thing, I cursed aloud, which thankfully no one at the laundromat seemed to mind. But more importantly, it also made me think about how the preface, “I’m a woman so…” should never be used on a statement so vapid and banal as liking Justin Bieber, and rather, should be reserved for only those things that women truly share the experience of. And then I thought, this is why people believe that “cis privilege” exists – because being a woman has been reduced to liking Justin Bieber, chocolate, reality tv, makeup, and fashion – in essence, a lifestyle.

As feminists we take the responsibility of choosing our words wisely very seriously. How we talk about things matters because it directly impacts how we think about things and thus how we act on them. And language is a touchy subject especially within contemporary feminism. When you discredit the material reality of being a woman in favor of viewing it as an “identity,” it’s easy to see how the concept of “cis privilege” could make sense to a lot of people. When they hear how transwomen are murdered at a high rate, they say “when a trans person is attacked in the street just for being trans, cis privilege seems very, very real.” At face value this makes sense, however, it’s logically nonsensical.

Colloquially it is often said that “cis” people experience privilege over trans people. But rather than meaning a desirable or favorable individual experience, such as finding a romantic or sexual partner or being able to freely enter the women’s restroom, privilege refers to a set of conditions or benefits conferred to individuals by virtue of being born to a particular social class, which goes mostly unnoticed by the recipients, thus rendering it invisible as a lived experience.

The fact that resumes with male or “white-sounding” names have higher response rates for job interviews than ones with female or “black-sounding” names is illustrative of the concepts of male privilege and white privilege. For the most part the men and whites getting responses from their resumes will believe that they have earned it because they are the best qualified applicants, and most likely it will never cross their minds that they are the beneficiaries of an intangible system that confers higher status upon them.

Being a woman is not a lifestyle. It’s not an identity that can be commodified and consumed or bought and sold. Privilege and oppression do not refer to desirable and undesirable individual experiences and “cis privilege” is a lie. Yes it is true that trans people face threats, harm, and discrimination but that has nothing to do with “cis privilege” and everything to do with homophobia.

Radical feminists want to see trans people protected under the law while still recognizing that the reality of being a woman has vast material and social consequences that are not to be trivialized, undermined, ignored, or cast aside in order to prioritize the demands of transwomen. And if “cis privilege” really existed, one would think that the concerns of women would be taken seriously, however, more often than not the opposite is true. So the next time you hear something about “cis privilege” don’t just take it at face value – there is more to the story, and that story usually involves using language to manipulate women into going against their own interests. In other words, don’t believe the hype – transactivism is misogyny.